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Traditional gifting should be dropped in trying times

Tuesday 1 September 2020 | Written by Legacy Author | Published in Small World


A Samoan culture expert and academic says the elimination of the ‘malo usu’ custom of gifting from the country’s cultural practices would not be considered disrespectful.

Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi last week called for local customs and traditions that place families in financial strife to be abandoned to overcome the economic downturn currently being experienced due to the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Tuilaepa made reference to the ‘malo usu’ Samoan custom during a ceremonial gatherings as one of those traditional practices that should be abandoned.

The practice involves people contributing money to title bestowments – but can also include funerals, weddings and significant birthdays.

National University of Samoa’s Centre of Samoan Studies Senior Lecturer, Ta‘iao Matiu Tautunu, told the Samoa Observer that the most important issue for people to consider when debating the matter of traditional gifting is the financial stability of families.

Ta‘iao supported the prime minister’s view and added that there is nothing disrespectful if one is to abandon a cultural practice in order to adjust to current circumstances.

“Some people will think it’s disrespectful to our Samoan culture to remove these traditional practices. But no – the value of our culture will remain respected if we know how to adjust and understand these changes when it’s necessary.

“If we look at the world’s economy at the moment, everything relies heavily on remittances. When we have bestowments, funerals and those occasions, 90 percent of the money that we use for these come from our families overseas.

“In supporting the removal of malo usu, we’re trying to ease the burden during these unprecedented times in the world.”

The academic also believes that it is an opportune time to discard the traditional custom, given that a lot of villages have begun to “misuse” it to increase personal benefits.

Malo usu, explained the academic, is the practice whereby a village or district participates in a ava ceremony of a bestowment held in another village or district to show their support.

Usually, they are presented with gifts given to the newly bestowed title holder or holders, including money for each orator chief who was part of the ceremony.

That means if the malo usu comprises over 100 chiefs, the family will need to give each of them monetary gifts.

Originally, the practice was only undertaken in bestowments.

But the practice today is also done at funerals, weddings and other events.

Though villages across Samoa share the same values, traditions and customs, Ta‘iao said Samoa will need to adjust to the necessary changes in order to make ends meet amidst the global pandemic.